- The American Conservative - http://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Recognize the Islamic State

Few would deny that the recent horrors in Brussels demand action, beginning, certainly, with a thoroughgoing purge of Belgian security and intelligence agencies. Other proposed remedies are shambolic, meaningless, or simply farcical, such as the idea of police patrolling “Muslim areas” in the U.S. (Which areas? Where? With what goal?) I would suggest, though, that one urgent priority is for the U.S. and its European allies to consider immediate political and diplomatic recognition of the Islamic State. Let me explain the grounds for that proposal.

European societies are legendarily open, and most have a strong reluctance to anything that might look like curbing dissent. That willingness to tolerate virtually any opposition to government is vastly enhanced by the commitment to multiculturalism, and the perceived need to avoid persecuting or targeting ethnic and religious minorities. Only that tradition can explain the utterly perplexing comments that regularly appear in media reports of Islamist activities in Europe, especially after major terror attacks. We read that a certain area in Sweden or England or Germany is a notorious trouble spot, with so many local men having traveled to Syria and returned. Elsewhere, we hear that intelligence agencies are stretched to the limit in keeping track of militants. In Britain, for instance, the security services report the hard work of keeping tables on a couple of thousand known jihadis. After an attack, media usually report that the X brothers were “known to the police” as likely militants.

Let me ask the questions that seem obvious to me, but which apparently elude European agencies. Firstly, and most obvious, the category of jihadi is quite distinct from that of political dissenter, or critic of the regime, or radical reformer. Of its nature, it implies being willing and eager to engage in armed violence against democratic regimes, and also the preaching and advocacy of such activities. Given the present terrorist threat in Europe, support or advocacy for such views constitutes a clear and present danger to peace, safety, and public order. It therefore involves conduct that in the Anglo-American legal tradition clearly comes within the ambit of the criminal code, under such labels as sedition and incitement to kill. I am not an expert on Roman Law traditions, but I assume those countries have comparable notions of criminal behavior, of the advocacy of violence falling short of the deed itself.

Why are European governments not enforcing these laws? Why do they not go beyond proscribing organizations to prosecuting and punishing each and every individual member or office holder? Why are there no mass sedition trials? If direct criminal prosecutions are difficult, why can suspects not be interned for the duration of the emergency? Why, in short, are “known jihadi sympathizers” walking the streets?

Leading on from that, if a person has traveled from a European nation to Syria or Iraq in the past four or five years, the presumption is surely that they did so with a willingness to support the activities of the same terror group that has been active on European soil, namely the Islamic State, the Daesh. This places them in the category of jihadi, with the sanctions outlined above. Why are they ever, under any circumstances, allowed re-entry into Europe? Indeed, let us encourage their travels to the Middle East, where they can form a concentrated target for attack and annihilation by multiple nations. But return? Never.

Please understand, I am not naïve about the workings of intelligence, and I realize there are excellent reasons for allowing real or apparent terror suspects to wander loose. I once debated a conservative writer who was appalled that the British allowed a certain blowhard imam to remain free and active in London. My argument was that intelligence services often allow such figures much liberty precisely because they are double agents or informants, and they must be seen to be active in radical movements as a means of facilitating surveillance and penetration of terror organizations. My fear, though, is that the enormous latitude allowed to European jihadis does not, generally, result from such familiar tradecraft. European governments are simply too confused or gutless to round them up and jail them.

All of which brings me to recognizing the Islamic State. Presently, the Daesh is viewed as a dangerous terrorist group, membership in which constitutes illegal behavior in Western nations. But suppose that it was recognized internationally as a state, and its sympathizers and agents continued to advocate or practice violence against Western governments. In that case, they would be advocating or committing acts of irregular warfare, which would constitute treason. That would be all the easier if Western states formally declared war against the Islamic State.

The potential of treason charges would really, seriously, force Islamist thinkers to think very hard about the nature of their propaganda and activism. That redefinition would also make it vastly easier to frame and press charges, and to inflict maximum criminal penalties.

The people who would be happiest with such a development would be the leaders of most European mosques and Islamic organizations, who get very tired of banging their heads against the obstructive attitudes of police agencies. When sane, moderate, imams denounce the troublemakers in their midst, they would like nothing better than to get those fanatics put away for a great many years.

So, please, let’s recognize the Islamic State, and force its supporters and adherents to come to terms with the implications of advocating violence on the part of an enemy nation. Let them become traitors and saboteurs, and suffer accordingly.

I do ask one final question. Both Western powers and Russia are commendably anxious to avoid targeting civilian populations with tactics like carpet-bombing Mosul or Raqqa. Fair enough, and hence the countless pinpricks of drone attacks. But why on earth do those cities, and other Daesh strongholds, still have the slightest access to power, water, sewage disposal and desalination, and every other facility that permits the continuation of normal civilized existence? Cutting off those pleasant advantages would force an immediate and irreversible crisis within Daesh territories, pushing those already unhappy with the regime into immediate revolt. I am sure the states allegedly pledged to smashing the Islamic State have good reasons for not striking at such obvious targets, but offhand, I can’t think of any.

Philip Jenkins is the author of The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels [1]. He is distinguished professor of history at Baylor University and serves as co-director for the Program on Historical Studies of Religion in the Institute for Studies of Religion.

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "Recognize the Islamic State"

#1 Comment By Damoj On March 25, 2016 @ 3:37 am

“Leading on from that, if a person has traveled from a European nation to Syria or Iraq in the past four or five years, the presumption is surely that they did so with a willingness to support the activities of the same terror group that has been active on European soil, namely the Islamic State, the Daesh.”

Terrible, terrible argument. Anyone who travelled to occupied europe in WW2, even nationals of occupied countries, should’ve lost their citizenship because “surely” there could be only one purpose? Nobody’s parents got sick, nobody had to sell property, you know everyone’s motives?

“Cutting off those pleasant advantages would force an immediate and irreversible crisis within Daesh territories, pushing those already unhappy with the regime into immediate revolt.”

Just like it did so successfully against Saddam in the 1990s, right? Or maybe it just kills a bunch of women and children while the fighters maintain access to limited resources and use them to further cement their hold on the population. What are you even talking about? Where did you learn this historical lesson, a Steven Segal movie?

It’s embarrassing when even the American Conservative feels the need to hop onboard the neocon/no-knowing “get tough”
foreign policy. ISIS is a prison gang created by the invasion of Iraq and the cultural influence of Saudi Arabia. Why don’t we stop supporting Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia that are killing far more arabs every year than terrorists ever will and then see where things sit?

#2 Comment By Hassan Dibadj On March 25, 2016 @ 4:56 am

It is the same old case of “police and thieves needing each other”. Moderate muslims watch in horror as London has become one of major centres of radicalism, under the guise of freedom of speech. In case of actual invlovement in terrorism, punishments handed out to these people are laughable. One reason for this ‘tolerance’ could be the fear of losing Qatari and Saudi money, who are the main supporters of Salafism/Wahhabism.

#3 Comment By Neal On March 25, 2016 @ 8:18 am

A “thoroughgoing purge of Belgian security and intelligence agencies” assumes there are people more competent to replace those purged.

I suppose we have to endure these cries for tougher actions in response to these crimes. We’re already killing (or so we are told anyway) lots of the jihadis all over the world. I have no idea if indiscriminate bombing would do any good but perhaps it is time to try it. Why should the citizens of Paris and Brussels be sacrificed while the citizens of Raqqa retain even the most modest pleasant advantages? It is a good question.

Whatever the case, it was curious to hear about that Bosnian being convicted of war crimes in the midst of all this debate. I suppose we’re going to have to give up the moral high ground to defeat ISIS.

Or… we can start imagining other ways to minimize the risk. Maybe unrestricted passenger air travel is a luxury we can no longer afford.

#4 Comment By SteveM On March 25, 2016 @ 9:11 am

Re: “But why on earth do those cities, and other Daesh strongholds, still have the slightest access to power, water, sewage disposal and desalination, and every other facility that permits the continuation of normal civilized existence?”

That kind of embargo would injure the innocent civilians in those areas the most. Because the ISIS lunatic thugs would brutally take whatever they could for themselves and let everyone else die of thirst or starve.

The targeted tactical task should be in destroying ISIS supply lines of munitions and revenue, (i.e., oil). The Russians have effectively taken that on with the U.S. coalition following along. BTW, what took the U.S. so long to figure out what the Russians figured out immediately?

Moreover, the middlemen in the ISIS supply chain should be severely targeted. The ISIS idiots may be happy to die for Allah, but the middlemen are only in it for the money. When it gets too dangerous, they will severely curtail or shut down altogether.

P.S. the U.S. pathological contempt for Russia motivated by Obama’s pathological contempt for Putin has only made things worse.

#5 Comment By Jonathan Mann On March 25, 2016 @ 9:51 am

The author asks why cities like Raqqa, etc. still have access to power, water, etc. Cutting off these, he posits, would compel citizens to revolt. The reason is twofold – doing so would be a form of collective punishment which is forbidden under international law. Second, from my readings, civilian life under ISIL was considerably more pleasant when compared to being run by a barely functioning state (Iraq, for example) where corruption/banditry ran amok. If this were true, citizens might blame the west for causing their misery and not ISIL.

#6 Comment By Dan On March 25, 2016 @ 10:20 am

Interesting article, but how would reclassifying the crime supporters of ISIS are committing actually lead to increased enforcement? There’s no real reason to believe that police agencies would be any more assertive in enforcing treason than any of the other laws.

Re: Mosul or Raqqa. I am sure that the answer is partly to avoid committing anything that looks like a war crime – humanitarian interventions can easily fall apart when they begin producing civilian casualties (plus inflicting needless civilian suffering is morally wrong). But more to the point, I am also sure that destroying those cities’ infrastructure would cause the citizens to become refugees, thereby adding to the refugee crisis in Europe. Western powers want those civilians to stay where they are.

#7 Comment By JohnG On March 25, 2016 @ 10:35 am

I agree with everything except the last paragraph, which is essentially advocating war crimes. Roots of the Islamic State are sectarian and, in addition to the benefits outlined here, recognizing it would go a long way toward pacifying the ME by finally addressing this problem.

Let us recognize that Iraq and Syria are artificial imperial creations in which different groups were lumped together for the sole purpose of easier rule. That approach is long past its expiration date, especially in combination with the fad of imposing “western style democracy,” which inevitably turns into de facto electoral feudalism. The vote in any election ends up being sectarian and the largest group (or a coalition of groups) starts a brutal abuse or even “ethnic cleansing” of others. Ethic warfare breaks out and the West is than caught in the middle, support of Iraq becomes de facto support of Kurdish and Shia maximalist claims at the expense of the Sunnis. The aggrieved party then turns to any means of fighting back and becomes fertile ground for all kinds of extremism. Let’s remember that, horrible as they are, the Brussels and Paris attacks are minor compared to what has gone on in Baghdad over the last decade.

So I say, yes, let’s negotiate a relatively peaceful and fair settlement in Iraq and rather than bomb “the caliphate” part, let those nutcases rule for a while – I am sure that is the best if not the only way of truly discrediting them. With the numerous benefits for the West articulated in this article as an added bonus.

And let’s finally decide to treat Saudi Arabia as part of the problem. Oil is, thank God, finally available from multiple sources, so it’s time to present this country with the choice: you are either part of this world with all the duties and benefits that come with it, or we treat you (that is, contain you) like N Korea and other outliers. Besides, many radical imams preaching nonsense can already be expelled there too because it’s their home country anyway.

PS As usually, neocons could not have been more wrong. First they break up Iraq without ANY plans for how to make it functional or even what to do with it once it was broken. Then they spew nonsense about “draining the swamp” by drone attacks and continued fighting, which only generates (actually already HAS generated) more hatred and desperation, and hence more fighters and suicide bombers. NO, THIS is how you “drain the swamp” – by addressing underlying causes of desperation and grievances. And if some population needs to live under a caliphate for a while in order to learn some lessons, so be it.

#8 Comment By Plum Pitiful On March 25, 2016 @ 10:36 am

I consider this a genius idea in its simplicity and effect.

#9 Comment By Rossbach On March 25, 2016 @ 10:53 am

“European societies are legendarily open, and most have a strong reluctance to anything that might look like curbing dissent.”

This statement would seem to be inconsistent with the tendency of EU countries to continually tighten their “hate crime” laws. Under the current regimen, freedom of speech has been all but extinguished in Europe – all in the name of “tolerance”.

What is the basis for the belief that governments that are reluctant to prosecute jihadis for sedition would prosecute them for treason?

If anyone in Europe should be prosecuted for treason, it should be the government officials who promoted mass immigration from Africa and the Middle East to Europe in the first place. The real root of the jihadi problem lies not in Syria and Iraq, but in London, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, and Brussels.

#10 Comment By Fred Bowman On March 25, 2016 @ 11:34 am

Well if the Europeans would recognize the Islamic State would the US follow suit? And if war was declared on the Islamic State would the US as a member of NATO follow the European lead? And last but certainly not least what about American allies in that region (Turkey, Saudia Arabia, Israel, ect) what would their role be? Can’t imagine the US continuing the billions in Foreign Aid we give them without them being required major players in the fight against the Islamic State.

#11 Comment By Nothern Observer On March 25, 2016 @ 3:04 pm

Simple, correct and long overdue.

#12 Comment By Thomas Sm On March 25, 2016 @ 5:22 pm

The jihadis bloom in Europe because of:

(a) blighted ghettos
(b) Many European countries (not all) permit Saudi money to come in and build huge Wahhabi mosques with imported radical preachers.

Both of these were easily avoidable and at least (b) is easily reversible. Kick out the Wahhabis.

But don’t recognise IS! You don’t know for sure there is a clear political structure tied to the crimes in Belgium and Paris and I think it would be extremely hard to prove one, no matter what any media propagandist claims. Recognising IS is an ***attack on Syrian and Iraqi sovereignty***. This is exactly what the neocons and the Saudi/Turkish enablers of ISIS want.

#13 Comment By cecelia On March 25, 2016 @ 5:36 pm

this is silly – for all the reasons others have identified but also because it fails completely at understanding the role of Iran and Saudi Arabia – the sunni shia divide.

If you recognize ISIL as a “state” in the areas it controls – you now grant to it all the rights, privileges and immunities that a state enjoys.

#14 Comment By Two For One On March 25, 2016 @ 6:08 pm

Very cool idea.

We should also be dusting off the Espionage Act of 1917 and relevant Alien Enemies legislation, both still on the books but too often either misapplied or fallen into desuetude.

These would definitely help in going after ISIS terror recruits and other alien evildoers. It would also help in going after other sinister foreign actors.

For example, AIPAC was almost brought to book after the FBI raids a few years ago, and some top people had to stand down, but G. W. Bush decided not to go all out, probably because Mukasey, who came in as AG at a critical point, was an ardent Zionist; it would have been like expecting somebody like Peter King to go after American supporters of the IRA Provos.

Those of us sick of elites and officials with compromised loyalties squelching prosecutions of foreign operatives and agents of influence need to speak up and vote out the establishment politicians who facilitate elite defiance of the rule of law. As with immigration, border security, the Wall Street bailouts, and the Middle East wars, the elites skate and innocent Americans end up paying the price, in this case both in terror attacks (i.e. ISIS) and in the making of stupid policies that provoke terror attacks (i.e. AIPAC and similar pro-foreign groups, to the extent that AIPAC isn’t sui generis).

#15 Comment By Joe F On March 25, 2016 @ 8:07 pm

This is threat inflation at its worst. ISIS represents an al-Queda type of group that has nowhere near the personnel or resources of a traditional nation state and is already being significantly diminished to the point where they will hold no territory. Certainly there will remain lone wolf or small cell capability, but don’t confuse their savagery with strength that require massive national responses. Intelligence agencies will long have to disrupt small cell attacks, but ISIS is already collapsing as an occupying force and will be off to the margins like al-Qaeda. Recognizing them? Good grief, why give them more stature and profile. Maybe a quick read of the WaPo article recounting their diminished capabilities might have bee a good start before writing this article.

#16 Comment By mojrim On March 25, 2016 @ 8:22 pm

What damoj said.

Irregular warfare depends on ambiguity, conventional warfare on an orderly matrix of allies and enemies. What you are trying to do, Mr. Jenkins, is impose the order of the latter upon the former, an endeavor fated to catastrophic failure.

Daesh is not, however, a prison gang, it is a doomsday cult, attempting to goad the west into a “final battle” at Dabiq, the Islamic Megiddo. Every time we paint them as a big, scary enemy that we must defeat at all costs, we feed their narrative and help establish their legitimacy.

States can be defeated on the battlefield because they are tangible things with tangible assets and rational goals. You cannot apply this logic to Daesh because it is not a state in any comprehensible sense. It is an idea, and you can’t bomb an idea.

#17 Comment By William Dalton On March 25, 2016 @ 8:50 pm

If you recognize ISIS as a state, do you not also recognize the territory it holds as the legitimate boundaries of that state, which it has the right to hold and defend against the forces we have been arming to fight and recover those territories? Sure, if we recognize ISIS and its territory and cease supporting the forces in Syria and Iraq fighting ISIS we should be able to resolve our problem with Islamic terrorism. They will no longer be attacking us. Then we won’t have to worry about ISIS partisans coming home to Europe and America any more than we do about Israeli partisans who come and go and they will. And we don’t reason to worry about them, do we?

And if we went ahead and recognized the Palestinian state and their territory and stopped supporting the armies that fight them, we could dispense with worrying about Palestinian terrorism, too, couldn’t we? But then we might have to start worrying about those Israelis.

#18 Comment By William Dalton On March 25, 2016 @ 8:52 pm

If you recognize ISIS as a state, do you not also recognize the territory it holds as the legitimate boundaries of that state, which it has the right to hold and defend against the forces we have been arming to fight and recover those territories? Sure, if we recognize ISIS and its territory and cease supporting the forces in Syria and Iraq fighting ISIS we should be able to resolve our problem with Islamic terrorism. They will no longer be attacking us. Then we won’t have to worry about ISIS partisans coming home to Europe and America any more than we do about Israeli partisans who come and go as they will. And we don’t have reason to worry about them, do we?

And if we went ahead and recognized the state of the Palestinian people and their territory and stopped supporting the armies that fight them, we could dispense with worrying about Palestinian terrorism, too, couldn’t we? But then we might have to start worrying about those Israelis.

#19 Comment By Janwaar Bibi On March 25, 2016 @ 11:01 pm

“But why on earth do those cities, and other Daesh strongholds, still have the slightest access to power, water, sewage disposal and desalination, and every other facility that permits the continuation of normal civilized existence?”

Because the West is not interested in destroying ISIS.
1) They are a useful tool against Assad so the neocons want them around.
2) They are a useful tool against Putin so the generals in the Pentagon want them around.
3) Your Saudi bankers would be most upset with you if you destroyed their pets.
4) Your NATO ally Turkey would be quite upset too if you destroyed their pets.

#20 Comment By Sergio On March 27, 2016 @ 4:30 am

Europe and the US are in pain, oh ah in pain! And that is because it hurts. But Europe and the US have inflicted so much, so much suffering and pain in the outerworld that the world has come to react, as espected from any living organism would against its aggressors. Very, very sorry for the victims and their families; and very very sorry for the victims of european and american violence.

#21 Comment By Lee On March 27, 2016 @ 12:21 pm

Over the past three days, the membership of far-right groups in Belgium has doubled. Those anti-European European governments are going to have their hands full.

#22 Comment By Egypt Steve On March 28, 2016 @ 11:28 am

I’d say that one way would be to make American and European passports invalid for travel to Iraq or Syria, or Afghanistan, and probably other hot spots. Require what amounts to an exit visa to travel to such countries. Journalists, diplomats, relief workers, etc., could get the proper permits. Anyone who traveled to such places without permission could be prosecuted for that, which is better than nothing.